top of page

Piece 2: Words Without Songs (2023)

Words Without Songs is partially an exploration of an idea of Michel Foucault. In a lecture later titled "The Order of Discourse”, Foucault claims that “in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality.”


The discourse of a single piece of music is governed by equally murky procedures. The composer has a mental image of material that must be sculpted on the page, which must then be delivered to the performer who filters it through their own interpretive language, then played to the audience who will receive the sonic result to their own biases and tastes. Like that of the "primary" and "secondary" text, this web of dependencies is in fact nonlinear: is the performer motivated by audience response or the demands of the score? Is the audience selecting the composer? Is the notation? It is in this nonlinearity that questions of materiality hide.


Words Without Songs attempts to explicitly frame the discursive process of concert music by taking as its material the rhythmic and pitch contours of "primary texts" (though the words themselves are obviously hidden), as well as a number of vocal artifacts: whispering, shouting, grunting, weeping. If there are no questions about this material (which has little implication by itself as a relatively unaestheticized representation of text), maybe it is possible to focus on the procedures to which these are subjected to as the actual material of the piece—an analogue of the procedures by which Foucault claims that discourse is governed.


Recommended excerpt: the beginning of the piece until 4:40 in the video. If there are issues using the PDF reader below, the score can be downloaded here.

Performed by the Norfolk Contemporary Ensemble

Ning Zhang - Clarinet

Yuki Mori - Trombone

Makana Medeiros - Percussion

Liam Wooding - Piano

Lauren Conroy - Violin

Thomas Hung - Cello

Alyssa Peterson - Double Bass

Lisa Moore - Conductor


bottom of page